Optimism felt in sale of ValleyCare hospitals

By Kalea Hall



Steward Health Care System said it plans to grow the Mahoning Valley health care business it purchased this week.

Leaders from Steward had town hall-style meetings Friday at Northside Medical Center in Youngstown, Trumbull Memorial Hospital in Warren and Hillside Rehabilitation Center in Howland for employees, giving them opportunities to ask questions about what the sale means for the future of the facilities.

The sale is expected to be finalized in the second quarter of this year.

“We are here not to continue to cut services,” said Dr. Michael Callum, executive director of Steward. “We are here to grow the business. We are here to bring patients back to this hospital.”

Tennessee-based Community Health Systems announced the sale of ValleyCare Health System of Ohio to Steward Health Care System of Boston on Thursday.

ValleyCare consists of 355-bed Northside, 311-bed Trumbull Memorial and 69-bed Hillside.

CHS also sold the 258-bed Sharon Regional Health System in Sharon, Pa.; the 254-bed Easton Hospital in Easton, Pa.; and three hospitals in Florida.

The value of the sale was not released, but CHS said the money generated will be used to pay off debts.

Steward is a private, physician-led, for-profit health care provider with 10 hospitals. In 2010, Steward acquired the Caritas Christi Health System, a nonprofit Roman Catholic health care system. Since then, the company invested more than $850 million to improve its quality of care and facilities, according to the company’s website. Steward is backed by Cerberus Capital Management of New York.

“We want to keep care local in the communities where it belongs,” Callum said. “That is the model we have in Massachusetts, and that’s what we have been successful at.”

The Boston Globe reported last summer Steward posted its first-ever profit in 2015 because of a change in employee pension plans that dropped expenses.

Steward reported in public filings with the Center for Health Information and Analysis, a Massachusetts state agency, a $75 million operating loss in 2014 and an operating profit of more than $131 million in 2015, according to The Globe’s report.

Laurie Hornberger, president of the Youngstown General Duty Nurses Association affiliated with the Ohio Nurses Association, said in a statement the employee town hall meetings were upbeat and positive.

“The nurses echo Steward’s enthusiasm of growing the hospital and developing a great relationship with the community,” she said. “We’re hopeful to work with an employer who shares our commitment to quality patient care.”

Employees interviewed as they left work Friday at Hillside and TMH also seemed upbeat about the information they received during 40-minute presentations at their facilities.

“So far, so good,” April Snyder said. “They told us about the business in Massachusetts, a summary. They didn’t go into detail. I went to the meeting, and I was pretty impressed.”

“We’ll just have to wait to see what happens,” said Snyder, a surgery scheduler at Trumbull.

Chris Miller, a clerk in the employee health clinic at Hillside, said employees asked questions and heard about the company’s plans for the rehabilitation hospital.

“I think it could be good. What they said sounded good, like there could be a lot of improvements,” she said. There was no discussion of any changes, “but it’s early,” she said. “Nobody was grumbling on the way out.”

Norma Emerson, Hillside administrative assistant, said the information she received “sounds optimistic.”

“It sounds like they are open minded and have a good plan,” she said.

Emerson said there was no discussion of changes to workers’ pay or benefits, adding the new management people indicated they have had good relationships with their unions in the past.

“So we’re excited. We want to see change and are hoping it’s for the best for the community and for us,” she said.

Chrissy Heineman, administrative organizer of the Service Employees International Union District 1199, said she is cautiously optimistic for the future. Heineman said the SEIU represents 223 workers at Trumbull, 247 at Northside and 44 at outreach labs.

“Our workers have been through a lot in the last eight to 10 years,” she said.

CHS bought ValleyCare, formerly Forum Health, out of bankruptcy in 2010.

When Heineman became administrative organizer in 2012, she represented 450 workers at Northside. Workers were lost through layoffs and retirements. With a lack of staff, Heineman said it has been difficult for workers to provide the quality care they want to.

“We are hopeful that the community will take pride in us again,” she said.

MercyHealth, which operates St. Elizabeth Youngstown Hospital, St. Joseph Warren Hospital and St. Elizabeth Boardman Hospital, was pleased the former ValleyCare hospitals will continue to serve the region.

“From the time that Community Health Systems announced its intention to divest a significant number of its assets across multiple states, Mercy Health’s position has been that the sustainability of the services provided by Northside Medical Center, Trumbull Memorial Hospital and Hillside Rehabilitation Hospital, as well as other facilities across the region, was of critical importance to our community,” MercyHealth said in a statement.

Contributor: Ed Runyan, staff writer.

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